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Mexico's 2018 election: angry voters in the age of Trump

Mexicans look at Trump voters with disdain, however, they share many of the same anxieties that led Americans to vote for Trump.
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Antonio Ocaranza Fernández heads OCA Reputacion, a consulting firm. He was Communications Director for Walmart de Mexico and Central America, Mexico ́s largest corporation, and foreign media spokesman for President Ernesto Zedillo.
2018-02-09T15:43:38-05:00
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Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, leader of the Morena political movement. Crédito: Yuri Cortez / AFP / Getty Images

A strong wave of change, feed by a combination of anger and anguish, is animating Mexico’s presidential election in a similar way that led to President Donald Trump’s electoral victory in 2016.

The candidate who is most able to channel these feelings will have the best chance of winning and, at this moment, that candidate is leftist populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

We Mexicans look at Trump voters with disdain for being ignorant, racist, xenophobic and anti-Mexican. However, the anxieties and worries that Mexicans experience today and that shape or influence their attitudes towards the presidential candidates are very similar to those that led Americans to vote for Trump.

The fundamental factor driving anger in Mexico and the United States is the feeling that "the system" is unfair to most citizens. The Trust Barometer survey that Edelman company published in 2017 indicates that 57% of Americans and 67% of Mexicans think that the system has failed them because their country does not treat them fairly; distrust the government, business and the media; do not believe that things will improve and want a change.

In this sense, two out of every three Mexicans want to transform a system that allows a few politicians and well-connected businessmen to enrich themselves without the government applying any punishment.

But anger combines with the anguish of citizens about everyday aspects of their lives.

According to the survey, 76% of Americans and 88% of Mexicans are concerned about corruption; 74% of Americans and 58% of Mexicans fear globalization and the presence of foreign companies in their country; 67% of Americans and 63% of Mexicans consider that the values of society are eroding rapidly; 66% of Americans and 41% of Mexicans are concerned that the arrival of migrants from other countries will lead them to lose their jobs and weaken their culture; and, finally, 61% of Americans and 47% of Mexicans are anxious about the quick pace of technological change.

A Mexican citizen feel vulnerable, not only because of the insecurity he experiences every day, but also because of inflation, the insufficient creation of well paying jobs and the constant threat that even existing jobs will disappear with Trump's rejection of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

As long as the popularity of the government remains below 30% and the main concerns of Mexicans are corruption, insecurity and impunity, the tendency in favor of change will continue to dominate the election and benefit candidates who identify with it. In the most recent survey of the company Parametría, carried out between January 25 and February 2,

López Obrador leads with 34% of voters while Ricardo Anaya, the candidate of a left-right alliance, is in second place with 23%. Another 9% of voters favor independent candidates. More than 66% of voters identify with candidates who claim to represent a change. Not even 20% of voters plan to cast their ballots for José Antonio Meade, the candidate of the alliance led by the ruling party.

López Obrador is the best positioned candidate to attract the vote in favor of change. His message against "the mafia in power" and corruption, coupled with subsidy programs for older adults, students and single mothers, are attractive to angry and anguished voters.

However, if Lopez Obrador loses points due to his own mistakes or successful attacks by the government and other candidates, Anaya can be presented as the candidate of responsible change and receive the “useful vote” of those who wish, once again, avoid the triumph of López Obrador and consider it a waste to vote for Meade.

Of which there is no doubt is that, as happened in the case of Trump, when the dust settles and the elections of July 1, 2018 are analyzed, it will very likely be the anger and anguish of Mexican voters that will best explains the result.

Antonio Ocaranza Fernández heads OCA Reputacion, a consulting firm. He was Communications Director for Walmart de Mexico and Central America, Mexico ́s largest corporation, and foreign media spokesman for President Ernesto Zedillo.

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